I used to read articles in parenting magazines which urged us to try our best to have dinner together as a family at least once or twice a week and I totally rolled my eyes. I’d think: talk about a low bar! What the heck do they think everyone is doing? Is everyone driving through to get fast food and eat in the car? All of this was followed, of course, by my own smug satisfaction. Because we almost always eat dinner together as a family. Sure, manners could use a little work (why does my 9-year-old always try to use her fingers instead of a fork?) and the conversation is not always super-intellectual (Cute W keeps saying that we should plan discussions about current events or the arts, but so far, planned talks. . . are all talk). But we eat decent meals at a decent hour and everybody clears the table together.
Or, that’s how it used to be. Until lately.
Now that we’ve reached the school-age years, things have gone to hell in a hand-basket.
I vaguely remember a story–I think it was from Dr. Sears–about a parent who was so pleased that his children never colored or wrote on the walls. He assumed that this was due to excellent parenting for years until a baby came along and he realized that the only reason why the walls had been clean before was because unlike the new baby, his elder children weren’t artists. I have years ahead for meeting my parental comeuppances in one form or another (for example, shortly after I posted about how I can handle anything with a decent night’s sleep and a shower, there’s this post on a mom’s anxiety about her very good daughter’s short shorts, and I know that it’s just a matter of time–HT sistermama).
So, the latest comeuppance? Family dinner.
On an unscheduled, generally organized day, the family will eat together at 6:30 or 6:45 pm and the girls will head upstairs to brush teeth and put on PJs by about 7:30 or 7:45 pm.
That hasn’t been happening lately.
On Monday, I brought J with me to my 5:30 pm Zumba class. Usually I’d leave the girls alone, knowing that Cute W would be arriving home shortly, but M had soccer practice, and I didn’t want to leave J by herself. Then practice was cancelled, but J was all excited about Zumba, so she came along, anyway. I thought that she was just going to watch, but apparently she participated and did quite well. I say “apparently” because, like anyone at their first Zumba class, she started out a bit nervous. I was hovering like a hen and annoying her, so she stood behind me and waved me off whenever I’d turn around to check on her. By the end of the class, three women had asked me if she took dance lessons and the teacher called her “Zumba Queen” and said she was better than me. Shocking, because I’m fabulous. Actually, there aren’t any mirrors in the class, which allows me to falsely assume that I’m fabulous, making it more fun. J loved Zumba, and she’s excited to go back next week for what is sadly my last class.
I fed both girls at 5 pm, then I quickly ate at about 6:40 pm, before J and I rushed off to meet Cute W and M at their 7 pm soccer game (yep, he’s coaching again). While J and I were Zumba-ing, Cute W ate before heading to the soccer fields for a pre-game warm-up. I took advantage of the cold, wet weather to make one last batch of chicken chowder for the season, so that was an easy self-serve meal.
On Tuesday, M had a soccer game at 6 pm, half an hour away, and J had to be dropped off at gymnastics at 6:20 pm. For a while I’d had plans of dropping J and rushing over to watch soccer, but Cute W made me realize that this was a gas-guzzling exercise in folly. Again, the girls got an early 5 pm dinner (burritos), and this time Cute W had a post-soccer game meal at 7:30 pm. Meanwhile, I foolishly thought I could sneak in a meal at home between dropping M at her friend’s for a ride (and yes, I was late enough that the friend’s mom already had the family loaded in her car when I dropped M) and taking J to gymnastics at Cartwheels. I wouldn’t get home until 8:15 pm, so I packed myself a dinner and had a tragic car picnic:
Jason, the nice guy at Cartwheels, assured me that I could eat inside while watching class, but I didn’t want to stink the joint up. Not only because it’s rude, but because it’s a bunch of mamas I don’t know, and I don’t want to be “the stinky dinner lady.” Perhaps that is merely a manifestation of my general social awkwardness, but I found more serenity in my car.
Tonight W is coaching another soccer game for M, then he’s off to play his own game, so it’s another early dinner followed by a scramble to the (unbelievably cold and windy) soccer fields.
Fortunately, this rec soccer season is only four weeks, and tomorrow evening we have nothing planned at all.
But I keep wondering how the heck parents of more children manage all of this, and yes, I pine for an elusive “Olden Days” when all the kids would just go and play in a vacant lot somewhere while the parents had pre-dinner cocktails. I wish that we spent less time organizing and schlepping and more time relaxing. I’d love to see more active kids playing pick-up games in the neighborhood, so I could just yell out the front door at 6:45 pm for everyone to come in to dinner.